Quick Review: BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER. by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster)

RafteryB-BestMovieYearEverUSAn excellent examination of “How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen”

In 1999, Hollywood as we know it exploded: Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. Those are just some of the landmark titles released in a dizzying movie year, one in which a group of daring filmmakers and performers pushed cinema to new limits—and took audiences along for the ride. Freed from the restraints of budget, technology (or even taste), they produced a slew of classics that took on every topic imaginable, from sex to violence to the end of the world. The result was a highly unruly, deeply influential set of films that would not only change filmmaking, but also give us our first glimpse of the coming twenty-first century. It was a watershed moment that also produced The Sopranos; Apple’s Airport; Wi-Fi; and Netflix’s unlimited DVD rentals.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is the story of not just how these movies were made, but how they re-made our own vision of the world. It features more than 130 new and exclusive interviews with such directors and actors as Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, Nia Long, Matthew Broderick, Taye Diggs, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, James Van Der Beek, Kirsten Dunst, the Blair Witch kids, the Office Space dudes, the guy who played Jar-Jar Binks, and dozens more. It’s the definitive account of a culture-conquering movie year none of us saw coming…and that we may never see again.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is an excellent, illuminating discussion and examination of the movies that defined 1999: a year that produced an incredible number of excellent, ground-breaking movies. They broke the moulds of their respective genres, updated certain outmoded mores and tropes, or created something wholly new. A fascinating book that is a must-read for movie fans.

In recent years, I have become rather obsessed with learning more about Hollywood and the film and television industries. Back in 1999, however, I was just an avid movie watcher. I would watch almost anything (although, I did then tend to prefer new movies to classics), but was content to just watch the final product. I didn’t really read anything about the industry or pre-release features and interviews about any movies. Partly, it’s because I didn’t have as easy access to the magazines available at the time (the internet wasn’t really a concern back then for me, either). I remember seeing The Matrix because it was the only thing that I either could watch (I was 16 at the time) and wasn’t a cartoon. It blew my mind. I went with my parents, and both of them have said at different times that they knew the movie had changed something — my father compares it to when he took me to see the Rolling Stones, and music became one of my three life-long obsessions.

The Matrix, of course, wasn’t the only amazing movie released in 1999. Of those covered in Raftery’s new book, The Matrix and Phantom Menace were the only two that I watched in the year of release. I’ve since watched almost all of the movies covered, and I was very much looking forward to reading about how they came to be. The book is filled with archive and new interviews and accounts from the actors, directors, producers and others connected to the movies in one way or another. You will learn about their creative processes, their theories of movie-making, and also how they came to make movies and specifically these 1999 features. I loved reading about some of my favourite movies, in greater depth and detail than had been available at the time.

Where Raftery really succeeds is in making those chapters about movies I either haven’t seen or didn’t particularly like as interesting as others. The author isn’t just talking about the movies that came out in 1999. He delves deeper, offering short histories of how the movies came about; how the creators’ got to the point when they could make those movies; and also places the movies in the greater context of the careers of those involved, and also Hollywood as a whole. Many of these movies changed the way we look at and address certain issues and subjects.

A thoroughly interesting and engaging look at a single year of Hollywood history. A momentous year. Best. Movie. Year. Ever is a must-read for all fans of film and film-making. Entertaining, engaging, and a very satisfying read.

*

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is out now, published by Simon & Schuster in North America and in the UK.

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